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The Frighteners (1996)
Music Composed and Produced by Danny Elfman
Orchestrations by Steve Bartek / Additional Orchestrations by Mark McKenzie, Edgardo Simone
Conducted by Artie Kane
Recorded and Mixed by Shawn Murphy

Label (Catalogue): MCA Soundtracks, (MCAD-11469)
Availability: Out of print
Purchasing options: Check secondary market at

At the very center of The Frighteners is a little black heart. It's Danny Elfman's music that beats through this dark little organ like blood; pumping, at times -- bludgeoning throughout. Moving from hard-core scares to quirky comedy. The Frighteners as a film is truly underrated. It's got just about everything modern audiences like - breathtaking special effects, interesting characters, a loud sound mix. But it's got everything that a cult film fan loves too - stylish direction, an over-the-top performance by Jeffrey Coombs, Michael J. Fox projecting an action hero persona (not since Marty McFly!). As a score, The Frighteners is quite an accumulation of Elfman quirks and signatures. While it suits the film extremely well, it isn't quite as progressive as his other summer of '96 effort - Mission: Impossible. Instead its Elfman's box of orchestral tricks, not exactly recycled, but put through their paces once again. From the opening seconds of the creeping harpsichord of "Intro/Main Titles", where the listener is whacked hard over the head with a musical mallet, to the soft purring tones of the concluding track "Heaven", Danny Elfman seems to take us through his filmography.

The major complaint against The Frighteners is the thematic material, or lack there of. But a closer listen reveals that a predominant, if not instantly memorable theme does exist and repeated throughout the score with significance. There's a great deal more music in the film (always the case isn't it?) which allows for even more permutations of the main theme to appear. The fact that we're listening to a mere thirty minute representation does cut down on opportunity for that main theme to appear.

Starting off with a pounding bassline and jaunting harpsichord in "Main Titles/Intro", the theme is first presented as a limping sort of melody, with synthy growls first used in Dead Presidents. A swelling choir and string section pound up and down into a speedy action cue. Pulsing horns and agitated strings are augmented by slashing MIDI samples (by now a major part of any Elfman score). "Main Titles/Intro" whips and whirs along with harps and growling brass, taking little time to whip up a frenzy! Then, slowing to a crawl, the orchestra pauses, and shifts into the first major main theme rendition. It's a sickly (that's a good thing) little number. Celeste, flutes and choir "aahs" then put you into a more relaxed state. The track ends with a synthy growl - an effect that will appear later on in the score.

"The Lads" sees the first introduction of Frank Bannisters' (Michael J. Fox) "business partners". It's tapping xylophone, screeching horns, are very upbeat. These are comical characters - friendly apparitions. They need jaunty melodies and they've got them. More fun continues with "Poltergeists" which starts with hilarious little purring strings then breaks out into chaotic action. The combo of horns, harpsichord and bonging church bell are used well here. This time a little hornplay reminiscent of '80's Elfman sneaks in. "Victim #38" pounds to life -- its the first time the orchestra and choir break out together unrestrained. The choir is haunting, yet serene -- this is a man's death we're listening to here -- so it's both perverse yet stunningly beautiful. "Who's Next" is a continuation of the prior track. It also contains one of the more beautiful moments of the score - for choir - as yet another victim is whisked up to heaven.

The CD then takes a huge jump in the narrative - straight to the climax. We're missing a lot of music from the middle acts: Frank (Michael J. Fox) battling the Grim Reaper in the museum, the startling cue for when "The Judge" is killed (for a second time), when Frank tries to save Magda Reese Jones, all scenes of Jeffrey Coombs as Lt. Dammers -- the psycho F.B.I agent. We rejoin the film musically with "The Garden", a stop and go style track which covers much sneaking about. "Chilly" is beautiful, introducing a quasi-love theme for Lucy and Frank. "Time" jumps back and forth between the lunatic Dammers as he whispers his gibberish (thinking he can use his mind to physically move things), and Frank attempting to save Lucy from Dammers. It's also one of the loudest and noisiest action tracks Elfman has ever written! It swoops, it drives, it piledrives, it obliterates, explodes, etc. The scene itself is chaotic, so the music is justified - the Elfman button at the base of your brain will be pushed and you will like it!

What follows is an assortment of stalk and chase action music. Some parts are effectively eerie - like the choir cue in "Patty's Place" and "Flashbacks". "Doom", perhaps the emotional highlight track on the CD, offers the film's resolution. With rich pulsating brass, yelping choir and feverish strings, you are literally flying through what the film depicts as a windtunnel to heaven, and then yanked back into the greasy, fiery, fleshy pits of hell. "Doom" concludes with an angry, growling low-register brass, complete with saintly bongs from a church bell.

The last score track on the CD, "Heaven" is a perfect way to finish. It's light, tranquil and relaxing - everything that the score hasn't been up until now! Sharp ears will hear a slight nod to one of Elfman's Nightmare Before Christmas themes.

Download video of Danny Elfman discussing 'The Frighteners'
Apple Quicktime required / 2005 Universal Pictures Home Video

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Click for enlarged CD artwork
Click cover to enlarge
01. Intro/Titles (5:45)
02. The "Lads" (2:00)
03. Poltergeists (2:05)
04. Victim #38 (1:52)
05. Who's Next? (1:39)
06. The Garden (3:08)
07. Chilly (1:29)
08. Time (4:41)
09. Patty's Place (2:12)
10. Flashbacks (1:07)
11. Patty Attack (3:04)
12. Frank's Wife (:50)
13. Doom (3:08)
14. Heaven (1:46)
15. Don't Fear The Reaper (5:46)
     Performed by The Mutton Birds

Total running time: 41:16

Danny Elfman's music at:

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